22 Billy Stead [1903-1908] CAPS 7

NZ Rugby World - - Brand Standing -

Just how in­flu­en­tial was ‘Billy’ Stead, the first man to cap­tain New Zealand in a test on home soil, in 1904 against the tour­ing Great Bri­tain side?

Dave Gal­la­her’s vice-cap­tain on the 1905-06 tour by the Im­mor­tals, first five-eighths Stead was told at the team’s 50th re­union in Welling­ton in 1955 by the man who played out­side him, Jimmy Hunter – who scored a record 44 tries in 35 games on the tour, which is still a record – “With­out you I would have been noth­ing”.

An­other star of the tour, Ge­orge Smith, told a re­porter when the team re­turned to Auck­land, “There’s a great lit­tle player, brains and pluck; he’s full of them. Al­ways does the right thing, al­ways at the right time; a real lit­tle won­der.”

His play was re­garded as cen­tral to the suc­cess the side en­joyed on the tour and it was sig­nif­i­cant that he was ab­sent from the team which lost to Wales.

What wasn’t so well known was that at the end of the tour, while the side had a three-week hol­i­day wait­ing for their ship to start the jour­ney home, Stead wrote a book, with as­sis­tance from Gal­la­her, called The Com­plete Rugby Foot­baller.

It re­mains one of the clas­sic books of the game with many of its in­sights still rel­e­vant to rugby to­day.

He came out of re­tire­ment to play the An­glo-Welsh in the first and third tests of their tour in 1908 and was then asked to lead the Maori All Blacks on their tour to Aus­tralia in 1910.

He coached the New Zealand side in the first and sec­ond tests against the 1921 Spring­boks, and the Maori side of the same year. And he was in­volved in se­lec­tion and coach­ing of the South­land side.

Later he be­came a news­pa­per colum­nist with his writ­ings fea­tur­ing in The South­land Times and NZ Truth, win­ning praise for their in­sight and top­i­cal­ity.

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